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Feds consider delisting Northwest Steller sea lions

Steller sea lions on a portion of the Pacific Coast are being considered for expedited removal from the Endangered Species list. National Marine Fisheries Service reported this week that petitions by the states of Oregon, Washington and Alaska to delist the population immediately (instead of waiting for a five-year review) “may be warranted.” The agency is continuing with a status review of the so-called “eastern group” of the population, which state fish and wildlife agencies say has been growing by an average of 3 percent a year for 30 years (as opposed to the “western group” in the Aleutian Islands, which have been declining). And public comments will be accepted for 60 days.

The Oregon and Washington petition to delist hints at the problem I noted earlier between the protected Stellers and declining populations of sturgeon in the Columbia River. Endangered Species Act protections prevent state and federal agencies from hazing the Stellar sea lions, as they do the California sea lions, to prevent excessive fish predation at Bonneville Dam.

The states don’t want to go through a standard five-year status review to delist the species:

“given that most scientists with extensive knowledge in this area, including many within NOAA fisheries, believe that sufficient information currently exists to allow the Department of Commerce instead to immediately proceed with delisting. … Initiating a 5-year review that will, in all likelihood, be immediately followed by a full delisting process is not a wise use of limited time and resources. … Of particular concern to state fish and wildlife management agencies are the increasingly negative interactions that the growing Steller sea lion populations is having with other very important marine and anadromous fish resources.”

Courthouse News Service reports from the Federal Register:

“All Steller sea lions were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. In 1997, recognizing genetic and geographic distinctions the National Marine Fisheries Service divided the threatened population into two distinct population groups, the eastern DPS and western DPS, at 144° West longitude near Cape Suckling, Alaska.

The eastern DPS, which includes sea lions living along the Pacific coast of North America east of the demarcation line, remained “threatened” under the act, while the western DPS, which includes most of the Gulf of Alaska and sea lions along the Russian and Japanese coast, was reclassified as “endangered.”

According to the agency’s Web site, the western DPS has suffered a 40 percent reduction in its population from 1991 to 2000 after already having suffered a 75 percent decline from 1976 to 1990. As the rate of the decline of the western DPS has flattened since it was first listed under the act, the population remains in decline due to illegal hunting and interaction with fisheries operations.

The agency already had been working on a required five year review of the status of the species. Upon completion of that review or within 12 months of receiving the delisting petitions from the states, the agency will release its findings on whether delisting is warranted, unwarranted or warranted but precluded by other listing priorities and/or budget constraints.”

Columbia River Basin Endangered species Sea lions Sturgeon

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